LETTER FROM LONDON
Great unpacking in the midst of British cricket – a national passion. Azeem Rafiq, a former professional Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) player, dared to accuse the club of “Institutional racism”. Since then, heads have never stopped falling at the management of one of the oldest and most famous clubs in the United Kingdom, founded in Sheffield in 1863. But the case goes far beyond a sport whose rules of the game remain largely obscure for the French neophyte. It has taken a national turn and illustrates how racist discourse stigmatizing communities – in this case Asian and Muslim – no longer has a place in the public sphere in the United Kingdom.
Born in Karachi (Pakistan) thirty years ago, Azeem Rafiq arrived as a child in Barnsley (South Yorkshire) where, very quickly, he showed an inclination for cricket. He joined the England youth teams in 2006, then traveled back and forth between national teams and regional clubs, including the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In 2018, he saw a personal drama – the loss of a stillborn child, followed by the abrupt end of his contract with the YCCC. When the Covid-19 pandemic starts, he engages in volunteering, like many other Britons, assisting care workers in Yorkshire, then retrained in the restaurant business.
“Look at the photos of the teams and the coaches: how many non-white faces do you see, despite Yorkshire’s ethnic diversity and Asians’ love of cricket? “, Azeem Rafiq, former professional player
But he did not give up testifying: in September 2020, in the local and specialized press, Azeem Rafiq began to distill accusations. He believes he has not been respected as an Asian and Muslim, says he was regularly carted on alcohol. He denounces the systematic reflections, the low number of Asians at his level in cricket, the indifference of his teammates and supervisors when he dares to complain. “Look at the facts and figures, look at the photos of the teams and the coaches: how many non-white faces do you see, despite Yorkshire’s ethnic diversity and Asians’ love of the game? “, he confided to the ESPNcricinfo site. Yorkshire, a former industrial stronghold in northern England, has a strong Pakistani community, the region’s largest ethnic minority (4.3% of the local population according to the 2011 census).
The YCCC eventually opened an investigation and, in August 2021, partially acknowledged Azeem Rafiq’s allegations, but without taking any disciplinary action. MPs protest, sponsors throw in the towel and in early November ECB, the governing body of cricket in England and Wales, takes a sweeping move by banning the club from hosting international competitions while it will not seriously tackle racism within its ranks. A thunderclap in the middle of cricket.
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Cricket scandal: in the UK ordinary racism is no longer tolerated